Low cost flying
Budget airlines have completely changed the way we travel, being quicker than other forms of transport, and prices that rival them too. But knowing how to play the system can help you save a small fortune.
Do your homework
Spend some time on the internet looking at all the options. The two big name carriers, Easyjet and Ryanair fly to lots of places in Europe and beyond, but there are other smaller operators that may offer competitive prices to specific locations. Look for chartered airlines such as Monarch or XL who provide the planes for package holidays and will fill any remaining seats with independent travellers at a discount rate.
Don't rule out regular airlines like British Airways or KLM who have been forced to compete on price by the budget airlines. Sometimes they can be as cheap, if not cheaper, and you won't feel like you are travelling cattle-class. A longer list of budget air carriers can be found at Flycheapo.com.
And don't automatically assume you have to fly with the same carrier both ways; budget airlines sell tickets as singles so there's no cost benefit in getting a return with the same airline.
Flight prices are based on basic supply and demand economics: in other words the more people who want to travel, the more the airline will charge. So if you are prepared to travel out-of-season, midweek and at unsocial times, you'll find the price rapidly falls. Travelling during school holidays is always more expensive because there is greater demand.
Decide whether you can travel to or from a different location: city centre airports may be convenient but you'll end up paying for it.
The earlier you book, the cheaper the price. It's as simple as that. Airlines allocate a few tickets at a low price, and once all those tickets are sold they'll sell the next allocation of tickets at a higher price. So the later you book your flight, the greater the chance that other people will have got the cheaper tickets.
Getting a window seat can cost you.
Don't get caught out
Headline-grabbing prices plastered on billboards and big newspaper adverts may give the impression that you can be on the other side of the continent and still have change from a £20 note. However, the airlines are masters in trying to get as much money out of you as possible; and you need to watch to make sure you don't fall into possible traps.
- Surcharges. A few years back airlines were barred from not including taxes on their advertised price. So you shouldn't have any nasty surprises; but do check that the price you are quoted includes airport, fuel and VAT charges.
- Book using a debit card, not a credit card. Airlines like nothing more than slapping surcharges for paying for your ticket. They can legally do this; but they'll always charge more for paying by a credit card than a debit card. However, if your flights cost more than £100 and you don't have travel insurance, your credit card company might be liable if the airline goes bust.
- Taking luggage on board. Crazy we know; but the airlines think that taking luggage on holiday is some sort of luxury. Often they'll charge you for your bags. Make sure you pay for your luggage when you book your tickets as they'll charge you double at the airport. And put everything into one bag as they charge by the bag; not the size or weight.
- Priority boarding. The latest wheeze is to charge you for wanting to get on the plane first. Because you aren't allocated seats there is a stampede for the window seats; so airlines have realised they can charge people extra to get priority boarding. If you get to the airport early enough, you've got as much chance of getting seats together as paying for the upgrade.
- Buying onboard. Because of security restrictions you can't take more than 100 ml of liquid in your hand-luggage through security; so expect to buy any food and drink once you are through security. But don't wait until you are on the plane; the prices are quite literally sky-high.
- Distant airports. Don't lose whatever you saved on the air fare by having to pay an extortionate amount to get to the airport. There's no point in getting a cheap flight from Liverpool if you live in the South-East, as you'll pay the difference getting there. Equally a cheap early or late-night flight will cost a lot more if there isn't connecting public transport and you have to get a taxi to the airport or a hotel for the night.
- Missing your flight. Regular airlines will usually try and put you on the next flight if you miss yours, perhaps with a small admin charge. Budget airlines aren't so kind and if you miss your flight they'll have no qualms in charging you full-whack for the next flight.
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